“Primary schools in England need to do more to help pupils struggling with maths, says Ofsted. But have new teaching methods left parents out in the cold and unable to help?”
A handful of new methods, with new terminology, can put parents off helping their children with maths homework. But this doesn’t need to remain the case.
My advice to parents who want to get more involved in their child’s maths education is to make enquiries at your child’s school to see how they can support you.
If you are not confident at maths yourself, now may be the time to build your understanding; it is never too late!
As a maths tutor, I would always encourage parents who want me to explain how to support their children in their homework. It only takes a couple of minutes to explain how the grid method works, for example. Or better yet, ask your child to explain the method to you.
“GCSEs encourage “teaching to the test” and may be past their sell-by date, according to Britain’s leading business organisation.”Follow link for the original article in The Guardian here
It is not realistic to expect individualised teaching in a class of thirty children
In any classroom, the teacher will generally try to pitch the difficulty of whole class teaching, so that the brightest are challenged while the weakest are able to keep up. But this is not always achievable. Nor is it hard to see how a teacher of thirty children might struggle to find the time to nurture every individual, and pick up on every single misunderstanding – and so we end up with the situation that is now being reported by OFSTED:
The weaker students are being failed, as are the brightest.
Instead of tackling the real, complex problems at play (including, but not limited to: large classroom sizes, issues at home, lower attention spans due to technological distractions, higher national expectations of achievement) the approach by successive governments has been to scapegoat teachers, and to apply yet more bureaucratic burdens on what are already challenging workloads. The teachers find themselves entrenched in a system that promotes short-term thinking. The focus is on the number of “A*-C’s” that each school achieves, rather than a more nuanced, long-term view to improving teaching standards. Governments want quick successes to prove their value – but these are often superficial, papering over the cracks deep within our approach to teaching. Within this political back-and-forth between governments, the children themselves are now merely a statistic.
To truly help your child achieve his or her potential, there is no substitute for individual time and attention.
Every child has different needs, and different ways of learning. Parental support (and tuition) can bridge the gap between a child’s needs and a school’s resources. Just sitting down with your child while she or he does his homework can be a help – whether or not you feel able to assist with specific questions.
Most importantly, the evidence suggests that there is a particular need to focus on children when they are struggling to keep up in class, or if they are not feeling suitably stretched in school.
Good Luck over the coming weeks!
Here are a few exam pointers that will help you to make the most of each exam:
Before the exam:
- Get a good night’s sleep before the exam
- Have a nourishing breakfast in the morning (and lunch, if your exam is in the afternoon)
- Make sure you have the right tools for your exam. Do you need your calculator? Tracing paper? Compasses?
- Arrive in plenty of time so that you can enter the exam hall feeling calm and composed.
During the exam:
- Read ALL the instructions on the front page.
- Work through the questions methodically, allowing time to check over your answers before the exam finishes.
- Read each question carefully
- Show ALL your working, step by step
- Draw graphs and diagrams IN PENCIL
- Write your answer in the space provided, using the correct:
- format (were you asked to give the equation of a line in the form ax+by+c=0, or y=mx+c?)
- units (should your calculator be in degrees or radians mode? did you convert all measurements to cm or m?)
- accuracy (significant figures, decimal places)
- check your answer where possible (e.g. if you solved for x, check the LHS and RHS of your equation!)
- Remain relaxed during the exam – if a question makes you feel anxious, skip it and come back to it later
If you start to panic: STOP. Put down your pen, rest your hands and look straight ahead. Take a couple of deep, calming breaths. Remind yourself that you can get through this better if you just relax.
- Check through your answers at the end – many silly mistakes can be fixed at this time
After the exam:
- Relax. DON’T dwell on what you might have done right or wrong.
- Take a moment to be proud of yourself for trying your best.
- Move on to revision for your next exam.
Please also read this BBC Article about general exam technique for some pointers.
A new City & Guilds report shows that while teenagers recognise that maths can be useful in real life, they feel that the maths taught at school can be irrelevant to their needs
I think it is true of any subject that children enjoy it more if they feel successful at it. Conversely, if they feel less capable, their enjoyment will decrease. As adults, we are the same, but we forget just how much new information children are expected to assimilate each day, and how many opportunities they have to ‘fail’.
Maths is a unique subject in that it is seen as fundamentally important as English, yet children do not have the same constant access to good examples of maths practice in their lives. Primary teachers are often confident with English but much less so with maths, and their uncertainty comes across. Secondary maths teachers are then expected to counter the consequences of this imbalance but by the time the children arrive at secondary school, there is a lot of work to be done, and a lot of damage to be undone.
Over the years, in an attempt to improve education, we have focussed on reporting and recording results, and comparing schools, rather than investing in better classroom teaching. There have been some very positive steps – having a National Curriculum guarantees at least that everyone has access to the same basic set of knowledge. However, this national curriculum also means that teachers have higher expectations on them, to get every child to a certain standard of performance.
This national pressure on schools puts undue pressure on teachers and creates an anxious classroom from the top down. This approach to education is not reflective – there is no room to respond if children do not feel confident in a topic. Teachers are instead encouraged to go full steam ahead onto the next topic in a race to start working through past exam papers, and any children who have not grasped what was being taught are left to silently accept their confusion.
There is not enough time in a lesson to teach 30 children, manage their behaviour, keep the whole class on task AND give individual attention to each child.
I feel very lucky, as a tutor, to see the other side of this problem.
Often my students arrive at a lesson with concerns about their schoolwork, for example: “we were working on trigonometry in class today, but I didn’t understand how to rearrange the formula”, or “I can’t understand how to factorise quadratic formulae”, or a whole range of similar problems. When they sit down, I can see symptoms of anxiety in their expression, how tense their body is, even to the extent sometimes that their hands are trembling. It is lovely to be able to pick up the topic together, work through a simple problem and build up the complexity level at that child’s pace. We joke, use bright coloured pens, ask each other questions and work together until confidence returns. My favourite part of that lesson is when the student has an “Oh!” moment, when they have grasped what it was they didn’t understand, and it now seems so straightforward to them.
Sometimes it takes two or three lessons to achieve this level of success on a particular topic, but that is okay. The key is for the child to realise that not understanding something does NOT mean that they are stupid, but that they need to spend more time looking at it in different ways, until it DOES make sense. Once they grasp this key fact about learning, I know that they will be able to handle anything that school, and indeed life, throws at them.
“Maths anxiety” is yet another label and we need to be wary of a culture that needs to label everything. It is simply the feeling of fear of failure. It is, nonetheless, a real and extremely detrimental emotion. The key is to provide supportive, collaborative learning, where children feel that the teacher is on their side, working with them, and not judging them.
See the original article from The Guardian here
If you speak to even a handful of teachers who have been working in classrooms over the past twenty years, it is very quickly apparent that yes, exams have become easier, and so yes, the grades are “worth less” than they were in the past.
I would argue that one reason for this is that the UK has just come out of a period of being governed by a Labour government who held a noble intention, to make further education available to all.
Their thinking was flawed, however. I do not believe that everyone is suited to an academic, university-based, education. Nor do I believe that society needs us to move in that direction. We need a diverse population with a diverse set of skills.
In fact, I would argue that what Labour have instead achieved, is a watered-down education system that hands out GCSE and A-level qualifications all too easily. At the Sam time, teachers have become more focussed on the narrow goals of high GCSE pass rates than on the teaching children skills for life. Children are spoon-fed information to make the school look good, rather than taught how to learn, and take responsibility for their own achievement. As a consequence, our children are ill-prepared for a rigorous university education, or for life in the working world.
On the other side of this, we have the X-factor culture, where every week children are taught that it is far better to aspire to fifteen minutes of fame rather than have an honest job. Will we ever forget “Andy Abraham, the singing binman” who could not bear to go back to his normal life? Each week, year on year, our children are taught that working for a living is a mug’s game. Twelve weeks on a talent contest, becoming a national spectacle, is pitched as a great alternative path.
I look forward to a shift back to more challenging exams, with stricter guidelines for examiners so that children are not given an inflated sense of their accomplishments and the value of those grades. Perhaps then, they will be able to prepare for their futures more realistically.